Over the weekend, there was a series of articles in TheStar talking about brain drain in Malaysia and also the steps taken by the government to stop the drain. Unfortunately, the narrative has not changed after so many years. I consider myself one of the “brain drain” from Malaysia despite all the opportunities that is given to me in Malaysia.
Good to see that there is discussion about brain drain as the economy start to open up after the pandemic (and at the same time there is talks about recession due to the high inflation coming soon). I suppose there may be some leading indicators that Malaysia is about to see a outflow of people seeking greener pastures overseas.
I may add that for some industry like technology, they have been enjoying tremendous growth during the Pandemic. As such, they have been hiring all over the world. As I moved to Ireland, I met a few folks who moved to Ireland during the Pandemic and I’ve got a few colleagues who also moved out during the pandemic. If there is a will, the tech companies will make it happen including jumping through pandemic travel restrictions. We also see an increase of people getting hired to work remotely, and when they pandemic is over start the move. This is one of the reason that Ireland work permit is taking such a long time to get approved as there is a long backlog. Heard that Irish government have hired additional people to clear the backlog and recently the queue is only weeks long, not months.
So I take it upon myself to reflect on the discussion I read in the papers.
According to Emir Research, Malaysia’s brain drain has been growing at an average rate of 6% a year in the last few decades. The think tank estimates there are more than two million Malaysians living and working abroad, including some 500,000 highly-skilled professionals
ONE way to attract Malaysian talents abroad to return home is to increase the competitiveness of the local labour market, says Universiti Sains Malaysia economist Assoc Prof Dr Saidatulakmal Mohd.
This includes having more competitive salaries, conducive working environments and better career development opportunities, she explains.
“The investment and business start-up environment needs to be enhanced substantially to create high quality and well-paying jobs to absorb the rising number of university, technical and vocational graduates across various science, engineering, technology, business and finance disciplines.
Greener Pastures Nearby
Articles discussing about brain drain are published occasionally for decades now. It has become somewhat a standard response, people are leaving the country for greener pastures mainly in Singapore due to the currency exchange. Therefore the solution is to provide job with better pay here. Somewhere in the narrative, there is talk about social equality and government policies. To cap it off, someone has bring up patriotism, feeling of home and family as reasons to come back.
When I was working with the university students, I was selling the fact that they should be looking at careers instead of jobs that they will get overseas. Locally, we can provide careers that allow them to grow. So in a way, I bought into the argument that having high value jobs will bring back talent, but I know from our initiatives that we will not be able to match the salary, after conversion, from other countries.
That is until I had to make a move myself, once I was accepted for the job, they gave me my compensation package that is supposedly a hefty sum. I had to deduct taxes and other contribution, then plan for my own budget with the family. What seems to be a huge sum now feels very little.
Cost of Living
I have learned that cost of living and quality of life is determined in the country you are earning and spending the money. In the sense, it is very difficulty to quantify what is comparable in Malaysia vs Ireland. I may be earning 5x more after Euro convert to MYR but I am spending the money where I earn. In a way, I should have the same quality of life here since I am moving in the same company, with similar compensation range.
What I am saying, I feel like I get more out of my money being paid in Malaysia before moving to Ireland. Therefore I think a competitive compensation is the starting point to bring people back to Malaysia but it is not the major factor.
To counter the argument that I would be looking for a high paying career prospect in Malaysia, that might be true but I am not expecting the job there to match my converted pay in Ireland.
Other factors than money
One factor that would encourage me to go back is more inclusion in the people and government. That word inclusion is thrown around a lot to mean that we accept people of all kind of background and characteristics. Malaysia started with the concept of muhibah, where there are tolerance between races. We were just one step from being an inclusive society but it seems that we have tried to create exclusivity in our society. The different races take care of themselves, the society shun foreign workers but we could not do without Bangladeshi labourers and Indonesian maids. We have exclusive policies that supports Bumiputra, we have 2 courts systems for secular and syariah. Speaking English means you are egalitarian, not speaking mandarin means I am not a chinese. When all else fails in an argument, we ask people to go back where they came from. Then for food and restaurants, even if there is Halal certification, anyone can start a viral post about contaminated chocolate and it’s boycotted although till now there’s no evidence. All this leads to negative feelings between the various groups of people.
In the extreme end, Ireland supports migrants and LGBTQ community. There is a government agencies that handles racial anti social elements in the community, you can just sms them on the incident. Because of this, I don’t see my kids being profiled in school and they play along with everyone. I also see a lot if girls doing work that is what I would consider a male dominated industry, I see ladies doing electrical and services work in the office. Mind you, these are strong ladies who can handle equipment.
Maybe it is easier to raise salary, create value added jobs to attract people to come home. Easier than having strong leaders and government who would say Malaysia should be inclusive, understand each other despite our differences and not just accept, but support each other in the country.